Chernobyl. Three Mile Island. Fukushima. Simply the names of these locations conjure fears of nuclear accidents and their devastating aftermath. Yet a story from that last place – the site of the Japanese nuclear-power facility that was damaged in a 2011 earthquake and tsunami – offers an echo of hope, especially as understood in the light of the coming Kingdom.
Reporting on the refugees who fled the contaminated area two and a half years ago, The New York Times’ Martin Fackler interviewed an older woman who travels back to her abandoned home, at risk to her health, in order to tend her garden. I couldn’t help but think of this as a parable for the way Christians strive to care for this damaged world, even as we long for God’s restoration of it.
From Fackler’s report:
Every month, Hiroko Watabe, 74, returns for a few hours to her abandoned house near the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant to engage in her own small act of defiance against fate. She dons a surgical mask, hangs two radiation-measuring devices around her neck and crouches down to pull weeds. She is desperate to keep her small yard clean to prove she has not given up on her home, which she and her family evacuated two years ago after a 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami devastated the plant five miles away. Not all her neighbors are willing to take the risk; chest-high weeds now block the doorways of their once-tidy homes.
“In my heart, I know we can never live here again,” said Ms. Watabe, who drove here with her husband from Koriyama, the city an hour away where they have lived since the disaster. “But doing this gives us a purpose. We are saying that this is still our home.”
Does anyone else hear a bit of kingdom theology in this quote, especially as espoused by the likes of turn-of-the-century theologians Geerhardus Vos and Abraham Kuyper? The Times story describes the Fukushima refugees as being in “limbo,” and while that isn’t exactly how some Christians talk about our current place in history, it does have the same flavor as the “now, but not yet” language that is sometimes used. Redemption has come through Christ on the cross – we have it now – yet the full restoration of Creation is still to come.
What do we do in the meantime? Like Watabe, we tend our home, in hope of the day it will be restored. Where Fackler, the author of the Times story, describes her weeding as a “small act of defiance against fate,” a Christian might say it’s a way of enacting God’s providential care of His garden. In short, an act of hope.
To be sure, this can be mournful, dangerous work - wouldn’t it be nice if culturally engaged Christians had the equivalent of radiation-measuring devices, letting us know when the conditions had become too toxic for our spiritual health? Yet we persist, because part of our calling is to cultivate, and stand in the way of the weeds.
Like Watabe, we tend our home, in hope of the day it will be restored.